International Municipal Lawyers Association - Local Government Blog

Your Legacy | December 12, 2008

Posted by: Warren Kraft, Assistant City Attorney/’HR Director, West Bend, Wisconsin

The column’s headline, from the current issue of Phi Alpha Delta’s “The Reporter” jumps out at me – “What Will Be Your Legacy?”  It is a question that we pose to adult scout leaders who participate in an advance leadership training course.  The question formed the basis for a reflective conversation with a friend as my one year “retirement” anniversary from the Oshkosh WI city attorney’s office came and went.

In his column about the Municipal Attorney List-serv, Dallas assistant city attorney Don Knight chronicled my personal and professional journeys.  As part of the changing political winds in that community, I found myself the target of several unflattering  columns by the local newspaper’s executive editor.  And so, I was moved out, and I moved on.  One of my former co-workers summarized my year of change by saying that while the door to Oshkosh city hall closed behind me that fateful October 2007 day, so many other, just-as-rewarding doors opened up to me. Meanwhile, the executive editor still writes his weekly columns criticial of local government officials, even those council members that his newspaper endorsed for election.

As collegiate journalism students in the early 1970s, we were taught to maintain scrapbooks of our published efforts that we wanted future employers to consider with our applications.  I may still have a few of them stashed in the back of the garage attic unless the mice used portions for nesting materials.

So, I wondered to my reflective friend what would my scrapbook look like from these past 12 or so months, compared to what the executive editor could put into his.  Though I left the public sector, my “retirement” was anything but private.  Whereas his published works would show the same monotonous themes, what would I be able to show my grandchildren? 

It would surely include a local newspaper  clipping (yes, from THAT local newspaper) of a picture from last summer.  One of “my” scouts standing arm in arm with me in the Bridger-Teton National Forest, outside Jackson WY, as part of a national scouting service project to build hiking and biking trails for the US Forest Service.  Perhaps, a few scenes from lifeguard instructional classes at the local YMCA last spring, or the swim meets that I continue to annouce.  Maybe some of the pictures when “we” installed a new pastor at a church I was assisting.  Even a few choice phrases from some of the associates at the Madison WI law firm, where I am now “of counsel” after a summer fulltime stint so I can work fulltime in the public sector again in another community.


Rhona Hill, International Justice of Phi Alpha Delta, asked in her column what positive impact P.A.D. members would have in each stage of their lives as they closed one chapter and moved to the next.  She writes about three fundamental principles, that are “indispensible ingredients of the character of the true lawyer.”

“INTEGRITY. Adherence to moral principl and character; honesty, honoor in one’s beliefs and actions. (her emphasis)

“COMPASSION. Deep sympathy and sorrow for another who is stricken by suffering or misfortune, accompanied by a stong desire to alleviate the pain or move its cuase.

“COURAGE.  The quiality of mind or spirit that enable us to face difficulty, danger and pain, with firmness and without fear.”

Aren’t these some of the attributes that we seek in our friendships, in our personal relationships?

Bill Kearns moderates the Municipal Attorney Water Cooler using rules of conduct embodied in three words: civility, collegiality and courtesy.  You can see those attributes played out as we support each other through personal and professional challenges, as friends sharing a common bond.

Would we need standing committees in our bar associations focused solely on encouraging our colleagues to practice these principles?

We teach our scouts “Leave No Trace” principles, in effect, leave the place in better condition than when you found it.  Sometime our efforts fall a bit short, but we keep encouraging positive impacts.

IMLA names several of its more significant recognitions, awarded to deserving and oftentimes humbled municipal attorneys, after venerable people.  Those individuals, who themselves, leading by principle, attribute and example, form our legacy of public service and commitment.  Log in to the Municipal Attorney List and the Water Cooler to witness the continuation of those who have gone before us.

Surely every walk of life has its lunkerheads, but, at a time of the calendar when many people ponder the past, the present and the future, perhaps the operative question for each of us is:

What is in YOUR scrapbook?

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This blog is made possible by the International Municipal Lawyers Association (IMLA), but may include guest bloggers (who are attorneys with experience in local government matters) who might or might not work for IMLA. Their views (and those expressed on this site) do not necessarily express the views of IMLA.







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